On the OPC GA and Apologies

The General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church recently concluded. No one could say it was uneventful. While I was not in attendance this year, an incident occurred that I believe needs some comment. Eastern University hosted the GA this year. Very near the beginning of GA, Eastern alerted the OPC to four alleged incidents of egregious racism. Two of them were by an OPC minister (I do not know who at this point, and it doesn’t really matter, anyway, in terms of what I wish to say), attempting to make jokes, and achieving what I would call “an unsuccessful attempt at humor.” The third incident, if it even happened at all, was not by an OPC delegate or member. The fourth incident was a misunderstanding in the cafeteria later cleared up, as I understand. This is what I understand second hand, let the readers be clear, and this evaluation of the four incidents was only possible later.

At the beginning, Eastern would only tell the OPC that there were these four incidents, and that if another such incident happened, EU would enforce its zero tolerance policy (which would have the effect of nullifying the contract). Eastern conducted no thorough investigation before the communication that was read on the floor. The OPC’s reply was an immediate statement:

“The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly. There is no place in the church for such conduct. The church seeks to magnify and honor Christ as the Creator of every human being, each one reflecting dignity and value as the image of God. Therefore, in accordance with God’s Word and the two great laws of love, we repudiate and condemn all sins of racism, hatred, and prejudice, as transgressions against our Holy God, who calls us to love and honor all people. In keeping with the law of God and the right order of the church for Christ’s honor, we resolve to deal directly and biblically with any such sins of hatred committed by members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In keeping with the gospel, we resolve to offer our assistance to Eastern University to confront offender(s) and seek reconciliation.”

As I understand it, no amendment was effectively allowed to occur, and very little time allowed to dissent or object. This “apology” (I put this in quotation marks since, as I understand it, the intent was not an apology, though it seems to have been interpreted as one by EU) was issued on the basis of witnesses, but not a thorough investigation to examine whether there might have been mitigating circumstances, or whether the alleged offences amounted to what Eastern thought they did. As it turned out (from where I sit, admittedly looking at this from a distance), there was little to apologize for in the end. The most egregious was the third, which was not committed by an OPC member/delegate at all. The first sentence is one I still regard as problematic, even though my understanding of what was meant has been tweaked by people in the know. The “disgust” of the first sentence is at the sins reported, and is not meant to imply that the alleged offender was automatically guilty. While this is the intended meaning, it could easily be interpreted as an actual apology. It seems to have been so interpreted by EU, which pronounced the matter as closed upon receiving this communication. This whole situation raises some very important questions in my mind.

Why did we make an apologetic sounding statement before conducting a thorough investigation? Why did Eastern University shoot first and ask questions later? While I am told they cooperated with the OPC in a cordial fashion afterwards, why the ultimatum at all? The ultimatum makes it sound as though they already believed the initial reports. The statement of the OPC (which kinda sorta looks like an apology, or at least has an apologetic tone to it) in its effect, is easily misunderstood. I am getting lots of different reactions as to what it means already. Why was no amendment effectively allowed to the apology? Why was pressure exerted to pass this “apology” with no dissent? The whole thing was rushed in its adoption. Apparently, the “apology” was enough for Eastern, and they thought the matter closed. Why, when no thorough investigation had been done up to that point? From where I am looking, there were no incidents of egregious intentional racism, only misunderstanding, and possibly lack of wisdom, certainly not intentional racism. At the very least, it seems clear that the OPC GA should not be held at Eastern University again, if “guilty until proven innocent” is going to be their mindset.

UPDATE: I am getting lots of valuable feedback from members of the GA who were present, and they are refining my understanding of what went on. I have already updated the post twice, and I expect to update it more to achieve greater accuracy. There are many different perspectives already on what went on that I have heard, many of them contradictory of each other. It will probably take some time before a final understanding of what happened is actually possible.

11 Comments

  1. AJ said,

    June 17, 2022 at 12:52 pm

    It’s good to be reminded that we need to be guarded in our walk and our speech, however, this sounds like a setup (not planned but of opportunity). We get bullied into a public apology and our reputation gets sullied. I agree that the apology was way premature bordering on ridiculous.

    We can be loving and humble ourselves on behalf of our weaker brothers. But sometimes we have to recognize that we are surrounded by enemies. Feels like we are a marked entity… a marked establishment. We don’t have to always think the worst but it’s time we stop thinking the best of those that seek to ensnare us.

    Guarding our minds and hearts… 1 Thessalonians 5:22, KJV

  2. Jason Van Bemmel said,

    June 17, 2022 at 6:01 pm

    Honestly, when I heard that the OPC’s GA was being held at Eastern University, I thought, “Why in the world would the OPC have their GA there?” Eastern University is a horrible example of Christianity sold out to cultural Marxism and the worst kind of postmodern morality. Racism is a real sin, but the process of the contemporary mindset is to be offended immediately and ask questions later.

  3. AJ said,

    June 17, 2022 at 8:51 pm

    I can’t argue with what brother Alan said in his most recent clarification on PB. But until then I didn’t get it.

    In light of all this, what Mr. Bemmel said…

    “Why in the world would the OPC have their GA there?”

  4. Ron said,

    June 17, 2022 at 9:10 pm

    I hosted a number of delegates that evening at my home. The first sentence was read to me that night. I poured myself a stiff one, though I would have anyway. 🥃

    The intro struck me then, and still does today, as not promoting truth among men; nor speaking truth and only truth in matters of judgment. We are to strive for charitable esteem of our neighbors (even if they’re in the OPC!), and have an unwillingness to admit an evil report concerning them. In short, this was passing unjust sentence – for even if the accusations are true, there was no basis to have received them as such. End of discussion.

    It would be egregious if the OPC offered a disingenuous apology in order not to be kicked out of Eastern. Some believe the motive to continue the GA was sufficient to give Eastern what it wanted without proof. I find that repulsive.

  5. Ron said,

    June 17, 2022 at 9:25 pm

    Lane,

    I just read some posts on PB. I stand by my previous post on GB, yet with one addition. To express disgust over an actual sin that was reported yet in the same breath say the OPC wasn’t admitting that the sin was actually committed is equivocal. (Our standards speaks about equivocal language in light of the Ninth Commandment.) At best the statement was unintentionally equivocal, yet would Eastern have accepted a statement that they thought did not own guilt? Even more to the point, was it believed by the OPC that they could have remained at Eastern without accepting guilt in writing?

  6. Anthony J. Castellitto said,

    June 18, 2022 at 2:02 pm

    The more I think about it, I don’t have a problem with the way the leaders of my denomination responded. We as an institution are even branded racists after our own founder. But the reporting of the incident was so sloppy. All 4 charges remain vague and undefined. 2 of the charge against the OPC are bordering on fabrication- I would love to know how that occurred? Even the charge that was credible was one man (two instances???) and was exaggerated it sounds but even that was not reported accurately …. Even now the info is still sketchy. What exactly occurred here???

  7. Anthony J. Castellitto said,

    June 18, 2022 at 6:40 pm

    I didn’t mean to speak of our founder in the negative. But these types of references (as highlighted in the CT article) appear commonplace. Seemingly to place us on the defensive….

    “What happened?” one wrote. “Was someone seen wearing a Machen shirt?”—referring to J. Gresham Machen, a key founder of the OPC, who once objected to a plan to treat Black people as equals at Princeton Theological Seminary.

  8. Ron said,

    June 18, 2022 at 8:27 pm

    “The more I think about it, I don’t have a problem with the way the leaders of my denomination responded.”

    They admitted guilt.

    “But the reporting of the incident was so sloppy. All 4 charges remain vague and undefined. 2 of the charge against the OPC are bordering on fabrication- I would love to know how that occurred?”

    Precisely

  9. Ron said,

    June 21, 2022 at 2:27 pm

    It would appear that the notion the OPC did not prematurely acknowledge guilt is getting a bit of traction. In that light I offer the following. https://philosophical-theology.com/2022/06/21/opc-88th-general-assembly-at-eastern-university/

  10. June 28, 2022 at 11:03 pm

    […] online. You can read summaries of the incident in the OPC Daily Report, by a commissioner HERE, by a non-commissioned minister HERE, and in an article from Christianity Today HERE. Ministers in the OPC were also informed of the […]

  11. Stuart Jones said,

    June 29, 2022 at 1:03 am

    Regarding the venue: My memory is not perfect on this but I believe it was in 1985 (the year year before 50th OPC anniversary) that Howard Porter gave a report from the Committee on Arrangements in which we had some difference of understanding about the facilities we would have use of (perhaps regarding the meeting hall) with the college. He made a passing allusion to a check that was cashed implying a contract existed and that if we were so disposed, a lawsuit might be filed, though I think he was speaking in theory only in view of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians. We endured what was probably an injustice then. I would favor never having GA at Eastern again.
    -Stuart Jones
    PS: Does anyone have info about hotels backing out of hosting PCA GA commissioners recently?


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